A Close Look at the 21st Anniversary of the Pan African Film Festival


A Scene from TRY

In February 2013, the Pan African Film Festival, America’s largest and most prestigious Black film festival, celebrated its 21st anniversary, as it screened more than 150 films representing 34 countries:  U.S., Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America, Europe, the South Pacific, and Canada, with entries from Egypt, Nigeria, Namibia, Tanzania, Guadeloupe, South Africa, Kenya, and Brazil.  The films include 23 documentaries, 13 short documentaries, 67 narrative features, and 51 narrative shorts.  The festival hands out prizes for Best Documentary Feature, Best Documentary Short, Best Narrative Short, Best Narrative Feature, Best Feature Film, and Audience Favorite Award.

Founded in 1992 by award-winning actor Danny Glover (The Color Purple, Lethal Weapon), Emmy Award-winning actress Ja’net DuBois (a.k.a. Willona in Good Times TV series),  and Ayuko Babu, international legal, cultural, and political consultant specializing in African Affairs, the Film Festival has also been expanded to include Black artists, musicians, and story tellers.  The festival is well attended by Hollywood talent who actively participate in round-table discussions and Q & A sessions. One of the documentaries premiering at the festival, “Free Angela and All Political Prisoners” is executive produced by Will and Jada Pinkett Smith along with Roc Nation’s Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter.  Strong, attractive, and engaging, Angela Davis is one such person who became a symbol at the center of this still relevant power struggle. In this historical vérité style documentary, marking the 40th anniversary of her acquittal on charges of murder, kidnapping, and conspiracy, Angela Davis recounts the politics and actions that branded her a terrorist and simultaneously spurred a worldwide movement for her freedom as a political prisoner. At its core, the story wrestles with the meaning of political freedom in a democracy negotiated between the people and its government.


This is the first year that the African Artists’ Association is sponsoring their first short film block during the festival, featuring four short films:  African Cowboy (Namibia); Papa (US), MaffeTiga (Peanut Butter Stew), Guinea/US; and Try (Namibia).


African Cowboy showed some beautiful scenery, filmed in Namibia, reminiscent of Spaghetti Westerns. A Namibian cowboy, looking for his stolen cattle, attempts to protect an innocent frontier woman from a brutal posse of land-grabbers and is beaten to death. The tables turn when he’s rescued by a mysterious gunslinger who helps him stand up to the posse.  The simple story, filmed in Namibia in fewer than 10 days, is beautifully shot and shows great use of irony and suspense.

Papa, a US production, shows the cultural gap between generations, as Papa, a stoic father transplanted from Senegal, attempts to run his household with an iron fist.  He’s confronted with a rebellious teenage son whose adoption of the American culture forces him to adapt or risk losing his entire family.  The universally appealing theme and well-acted emotional story made this short movie the audience favorite.

MaffeTiga (Peanut Butter Stew)is directed by a Guinean-Senegalese young actor now living in theU.S.  The humorous story highlighted the importance of maintaining one’s connection to family heritage and cooking traditions, and undoubtedly made everyone wish for a bowl of that fragrant stew.

The last short movie, my personal favorite, was filmed in Namibia, one of the five projects that had received a production grant from the Namibian Film Commission.  An interesting plot, with many unexpected twists, mixed humor and violence as it overturned traditional stereotypes:  thieves are actually good guys who rob businessmen and steal from crooked oil prospectors to raise money for a little girl who cannot afford hospital care; a classy housewife sells drugs and has sex with robbers for money; and a businessman living in an exclusive neighborhood has to go to the public hospital when he’s robbed of his wallet and insurance card.  And the bizarre twists of the story bring them all together in the end to a surprise ending that is not without humor.

Maffé Tiga

In this talent-laden movie capital of the world, it is refreshing to be reminded that great film-making talent exists in abundance outside Hollywood, and that great stories can be made without A-list celebs or astronomical budgets.  The Film Festival truly lives up to its mission to open up communication between different cultures and countries.  Not only does the festival provide a multitude of views about the U.S. Black experience, but it also brings in the rest of the world, the countries we rarely hear about—Tanzania, Namibia, Guinea, Ivory Coast—building an appreciation of these countries and their creative talents.   Although the festival has been around for over 20 years, it still remains a hidden gem, one worth discovering.  An absolute must-see!

To learn more about the Pan African Film Festival go to www.paff.org.

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